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   Ask Jeanna - Seven Questions about Bedtime Story-times

We read a picture book to our young children every evening.  Are we on the right track?
.A:  Absolutely!  Time spent reading with your children is so important.  Please keep doing this every evening while your children are young.  And please keep reading bedtime stories to your children, even after they have started elementary school. 

Increasingly, let your children help choose the book.  You can also encourage your children to help read the book out loud (to the extent that they're able - whether it's reading the title, a word, a sentence, or every-other-page).

Also see if your bedtime story-time can include reading two picture books each evening rather than one. 

Enjoy these bedtime story-times.  You're helping make special memories and close times, and you're helping to  engender a love of books and reading.

Q:  We read to our children for about 20 minutes before they go to sleep.  Is that enough?
A:  Most children would say, "No.  That's not enough!" because they enjoy having you close, reading to them.  And they would rather stay awake - with you - for as long as they can.  Almost no child would say, "Yes, that's enough reading because I need the sleep."

However, from an adult standpoint, approximately 20 minutes for a bedtime story-time is a reasonable amount of time.  It's enough time to read one, two, or three picture books or a chapter in a longer book.

We all know it's the end of the day and that your children need to go to sleep.  (Whether they like the idea or not, they need their sleep.)  It's also the end of your day, and you need to get other things done before you too can go to sleep.  So yes, from a scheduling point of view, approximately 20 minutes for a shared, bedtime story-time is reasonable.

That said, while 20 minutes of reading before bedtime is "enough" for an enjoyable story-time, it's not enough if it's the only story-time your child has each day.  Children benefit from story-times in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening.  The more, the better.

Q:  I want my child to do well.  Will my child's bedtime story-time help?
A:  Yes, it will.  Bedtime story-times are cozy, enjoyable, and educational. When you read to your child, you are helping to create happy childhood memories, a close relationship with you, and positive feelings about reading and books.

It's an important gift that you're giving your child, but it's still only 20 minutes or so out of your child's entire day.  And it's when you and your child are the most tired.

Take a moment to figure out how many hours your child is awake each day.  10 hours?  12 hours?  14 hours?

If you want your child "to do well," 20 minutes of reading to your child at bedtime is wonderful, but it's not enough. You can help your child "to do well" by reading books to your child during the daytime too.

If you're not with your child during the daytime (true during the week for many working parents), do everything you can to make sure that books and story-times are a regular part of your child's daily program.  And on weekends, take time to read books to your child in the mornings and the afternoons as well.

In other words, a regular routine of bedtime story-times - and many other story-times -  helps children do well.

Q:  Which books make good bed-time stories for young children?
A:  Generally, a picture book (or two) that you can complete without running out of time or patience. 

A picture book or two that has a sweet story and pleasant illustrations (rather than a picture book with pirates, monsters, and other action-packed adventures) because you want to transition calmly from a bedtime story-time to an uneventful, bedtime sleep-time.

A picture book or two that you have already read (so you know what's in it - no surprises).

Probably, but not necessarily, a picture book or two that your child has enjoyed and showed interest in.  Most children enjoy hearing stories read aloud multiple times.  Favorite stories can be read (yet again) at bed-time because they are familiar, and in many ways, are comforting and reassuring because they are predictable and known.

Most children also like to have some say (or to make all the decisions) about which book or books will be read to them.  So if you have a collection of books in your home (and want to avoid over-stimulating or very long books), you may want to select a handful of books as possibilities.  Then let your children pick from this selection.  And if you've borrowed children's books from the library, some of these books also can be included as possibilities to be read aloud at bed-time.

Q:  My child is just learning to read.  What kind of bedtime stories make sense?
A:  Most children - even those who are learning to read - will happily snuggle and listen to you read a bedtime story.  Your child may want to choose which books you'll read out loud, your child may listen intently to the story, your child may help turn the pages, and your child may have lots to say - both while you're reading and after the story ends.  All of these are ways that your child can be actively involved with reading the books.

Some children, when they're just learning to read, will also gladly demonstrate their new skill by wanting to read part or all of a book to you at bedtime.  If your child wants to do this, the books that make the most sense to use are the books your child can succeed at reading to you. 

Generally, this means a book with very few words per page - with pictures that give your child additional clues for what the words are.  This also probably means a familiar book that your child has heard you read out loud (perhaps multiple times) because the storyline is known and partly memorized.  Another option to consider is a book with words that rhyme (because rhyming words, like pictures on the page) give your child additional clues about the words he or she is trying to read.

On the other hand, your child may not want to read a whole book out loud.  Your child may prefer to "help read" a bedtime book by reading an occasional word.  For instance, while moving your pointer finger under the words as you read the words out loud, you might say "Curious"  and then pause and let your child say "George!"  And then let your child find and say the word "George" throughout the story.

Perhaps your child is willing and able to read more than a word or two.  You can alternate - your child reads the few words on one page of a picture book.  Then you read the words on the next page.  You take turns, and your child feels successful.

You'll probably find that your child wants to "help read" a bedtime book sometimes, but other evenings just wants you to be the one who reads.  That's O.K. and understandable.  Children are at the end of their day and are tired (whether they admit it or not). Also, many children find their first attempts to read - and read out loud - a combination of exciting, exhausting, and even embarrassing or anxiety-provoking.  (Think about how adults feel when they are first learning to speak a foreign language.)

To sum up, children who are just learning to read may (or may not) want to read some or all of a book to you at bed-time.  And even if your child does read out loud to you, hopefully there will still be time left for you to read a picture book out loud to your child.  Even for children who are just learning to read, this is a well-loved routine and a big gift you can continue to give your child at bed-time.

Keep reading the same types of books that your child has been enjoying in the last few weeks and months - picture books and stories with appealing characters.  Bedtime stories can also include books with a bit more text because your child's attention span is growing as is your child's ability to understand a story - even if the book has fewer pictures and more words.

Q:  My two children want different books.  What's a good way to handle this?
A:  You're raising two children, two individuals, with two sets of interests and needs.  And they're probably two different ages, with two different attention spans and two different personalities.  And everyone's tired at the end of the day.

So that makes it a challenge.  You want a sweet bed-time.  You don't want to end the day with disagreements and unhappiness.

First suggestion - Pick a time during the day (when you and they are relaxed and not tired) to talk about bedtime story-times.  Tell your children that you love reading to them and want their help to make it a happy time.  Tell your children that it's great that they each have ideas about what books they want you to read.  Tell your children that they can each pick a picture book and you'll read both books. And remind them that the next day, you'll read two more books.  And everybody gets to take turns picking books.

Around dinner time, remind your children.  Say something like, "I'm so glad we will read two books tonight.  I'm so glad you each get to choose a book.  That will be fun!"

And when they each choose a book, smile and compliment them for each choosing a book.  Which book do you read first?  Unless one child is much younger than the other and goes to sleep first, read both books to both children.  And whoever gets to hear his or her book first, takes turns the next night by hearing his or her choice of books read as the second book.  Fair is fair.

A second suggestion - If there are two adults in your household who can both read stories, consider sometimes giving each child undivided attention (with one grownup per child).  Then, you and one of your children can select two books that interest that child - or talk a bit more about one book - before kisses good night and lights out.

Q:  My child can independently read simple books.  Should our bed-time story-times end?
A:  Not yet!  For years, you've established a wonderful, evolving, end-of-day routine and ritual.  Now, you get to experiment with the next version of bed-time reading.

Instead of reading simple picture books to your child, you can increasingly read simple (and then more complex) chapter books to your child.  Depending on the amount of time you have and the length of each chapter, you can choose to read a chapter or two or three.

There are so many wonderful chapter books for young children.  Everything from Charlotte's Web to Stuart Little, from the Little House on the Prairie series to the Chronicles of Narnia series.  Browse with your child at a bookstore or at the children's section of a public library.  You can ask a librarian for book suggestions, and you can also ask other knowledgeable people, including your child's teachers, for suggestions about sure-to-please chapter books.  There are so many wonderful children's books to consider and enjoy! 

Now, back to the actual bedtime story-time for your child which should continue to evolve, not end.

Bed-time story-times can include two parts:  If your child wants to read to you (at the beginning of bedtime story-time), your child gets to read a few pages to you out of any book he or she chooses.  If the book is fairly short, your child may be able to read the whole book to you. You then get to show pride,  "You're really learning to read! I really enjoyed that. Thanks so much for reading to me!"  Then it's your turn to read out loud from a chapter book that your child can't yet read independently.

Here's why this two-part bedtime story-time works well for many children who are beginning readers - First, your child gets to show how he or she is learning to read to an uncritical, supportive, loving person - you.  Then, your child gets to relax and listen to your familiar voice read a chapter or two each evening from a wonderful chapter book (with a story-line that your child can understand but not yet independently read).  And throughout, your child has your undivided attention.

Here's another version of bedtime story-time that works well for children who are beginning readers - First, you read a chapter or two to your child.  Then you let your child keep the lights on for a bit more time to independently read (silently or out loud) before you return to your child's bedroom with a compliment like, "It's so wonderful how you can look at a book and read more and more words!" before you give each other good night kisses and one of you turns out the light.

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